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Would you exchange a high position for a low one?

… I had been elected a member [of the VA House of Burgesses] by my county. I knew that our [state’s] legislation under the regal government had many very vicious points which urgently required reformation, and I thought I could be of more use in forwarding that work. I therefore retired from my seat in Congress on the 2d. of Sep. resigned it, and took my place in the legislature of my state, on the 7th. of October.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should lead where they’re most useful, regardless of status.
Virginia renewed Jefferson’s status as a delegate to the Continental Congress a month after its adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s home county of Albemarle also elected him to his previous position as a member of the new state legislature, formerly the House of Burgesses.

Virginia’s laws were those of a English colony, reflecting the mother country’s values. Jefferson saw “many very vicious points” in those laws which needed revision. He thought he could be of more value there than continuing in the Congress. He resigned his position in the national legislature to take his place in the state one.

This move would also allow him to be much closer to home, where he could attend to his wife’s frail health and their two very young daughters.

As the war for independence continued, he devoted considerable time over the next three years to re-writing Virginia’s statutes. One of the three life accomplishments that adorn his tombstone came from this work.

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What do you oppose? What does that say about you?

As the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported. The parts struck out by Congress shall be distinguished by a black line drawn under them; & those inserted by them shall be placed in the margin or in a concurrent column.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders have long memories!

The previous post gave two major changes the Continental Congress made in Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. Those changes eliminated a condemnation of England’s slave trade and lessened criticism of the English people themselves. But there were many other changes, too, about 25.

Late in life, when Jefferson’s authorship was well known, he also wanted it well known which ideas were his, and which were not. Whether from personal irritation or for historical accuracy is not clear. Jefferson was quite miffed in July 1776 at all the changes and thought they weakened the document. Forty-five years later, the tone of this excerpt might indicate he still held a grudge over those changes. He included the full text of his draft plus all the changes.

To categorize the changes other than the two above:
– Most would be stylistic, eliminating or changing a word or phrase.
– Some toned down his harsher criticism of King George III.
– In the conclusion, Jefferson’s draft had no reference to any authority other than their own as individuals, as representatives of states and of the United States. As amended, two references to divine authority were added.

 *This link is to the entire volume. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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Two Declaration of Independence rejects

The pusillanimous [timid, cowardly] idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance [willingness to please] to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.
Autobiography, 1821 *

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The 1776 Continental Congress appointed Jefferson to a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence. Jefferson was the primary author. His work, reviewed and amended by the committee, was further amended by the Congress as a whole before it was adopted on July 4.

Only two Congressional revisions were singled out for specific mention in this work:
-Accusations toward the English people themselves (as opposed to the King only) were eliminated or softened considerably.
– Language condemning the slave trade was eliminated altogether. From other sources, we know that Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence had that language remained. The northern states supported this change. While their slave population was very small, they were slave traders themselves.

 *This link is to the entire volume. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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Can you fight social evil at an early age?

In 1769, I became a member of the legislature by the choice of the county in which I live, & continued in that until it was closed by the revolution. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected: and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson’s life as a public man began at age 26. He was elected from his native Albemarle County to the colonial legislature, the House of Burgesses.

Other than matters leading to independence a few years hence, this may be the only early legislative position expressed in his autobiography. He supported easing the law for freeing slaves, but the effort was defeated. He thought a majority of the Burgesses might eventually be convinced to support the cause, but the King’s Council held veto power over the legislature. Even if the Burgesses would approve, the Council would not. The slave trade was firmly entrenched in England and would not end for another four decades.

Historians (and others) have their opinions on Jefferson and slavery. It is worth noting his opposition began early. Though he never took the lead in that fight, he never wavered from his opinion that slavery was wrong and must one day be abolished.

 *This link is to the entire volume. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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How else can mentors help?

He [William Small] returned to Europe in 1762, having previously filled up the measure of his goodness to me, by procuring for me, from his most intimate friend G. Wythe, a reception as a student of law, under his direction, and introduced me to the acquaintance and familiar table of Governor Fauquier, the ablest man who had ever filled that office. With him, and at his table, Dr. Small & Mr. Wythe, his amici omnium horarum [Latin: friends all hours], & myself, formed a partie quarree, & to the habitual conversations on these occasions I owed much instruction. Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life.
Autobiography, 1821*

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise mentors bring in more mentors.
The previous post listed the qualities Jefferson attributed to his revered college professor, Dr. William Small. His instructor didn’t keep his student to himself but introduced him to others who could guide him, as well.

First among those was lawyer George Wythe, who directed Jefferson’s five-year study of the law. Wythe moved from mentor to “my most affectionate friend through life.” Next was Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, the King’s representative in colonial Virginia.

Together, Small, Wythe and Fauquier, ages 36, 44 and 56, took the 17-year-old Jefferson into their company. The impressionable teenager learned much by observing these men, listening to and participating in their conversations.

Fauquier died in 1768 at age 65, Small in 1775 at age 41. Wythe lived until age 80, believed to be poisoned by a mulatto grandnephew in 1806. The relative was charged with the crime but not convicted. Courts did not accept the testimony of blacks, the only witnesses to the crime.

*This link is to the entire autography. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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What qualities make a good mentor?

[I] then went to Wm. and Mary college, to wit in the spring of 1760, where I continued 2. years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. Wm. Small of Scotland was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, & an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.
Autobiography, 1821*

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders-to-be need skilled mentors.
Jefferson was almost 17 when he continued his education in college at Williamsburg. He came into the orbit of Dr. William Small, the only faculty member who was not an Anglican clergyman. Because of upheaval within the school, Small became Jefferson’s only professor, teaching all of his classes.

Sixty years later, Jefferson would cite the qualities that made Small extraordinary:

  1. “Profound,” which Webster’s 7th New Collegiate defines as “intellectual depth and insight”
  2. Devoted to the “useful branches of science,” wisdom relevant to everyday life
  3. “a happy talent for communication,” an engaging and effective classroom teacher
  4. “correct and gentlemanly manners,” proper and polite
  5. “an enlarged and liberal mind,” willing to consider all the possibilities
  6. “made me his daily companion,” taking young Jefferson under his wing
  7. “from his conversation,” verbal interaction with a high purpose

I’ve begun re-reading Jefferson’s Autobiography. I may take posts from it for some time.

*This link is to the entire autobiography. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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What work do the women do?

The people here [Champagne, France] were ill clothed, and looked ill, and I observed the women performing the heavy labours of husbandry; an unequivocal proof of extreme poverty. In Burgundy and Beaujolois they do only light work in the feilds, being principally occupied within doors. In these counties they were well clothed and appeared to be well fed.
To William Short, March 15, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sensitive leaders look for clues to people’s well-being.
Jefferson was reporting to his personal secretary in Paris. He was two weeks into a three month tour that would take him through France and parts of Italy. The surface reason may have been to visit the healing hot water springs at Aix, to soothe the broken and poorly set wrist he suffered a few months earlier. The water’s healing effects availed little, yet Jefferson inquired about everything as he went.

Here, he contrasted two regions of France, one poor and one prosperous.
– In Champagne, people were “ill clothed and looked ill,” obvious malnutrition. Women did heavy, outdoor work, probably the same farm work as men. That was an undeniable sign of “extreme poverty” that afflicted all but the privileged classes
– In Burgandy and Beaujolois, however, people were “well clothed and appeared to be well fed,” presumably healthy. Women’s work was mostly indoors, domestic tasks, with “only light work in the fields.” Economic prosperity required heavy physical work from the men only while protecting the women from that fate.

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30 years of planning down the drain

I have now been thirty years availing myself of every possible opportunity of procuring Indian vocabularies to the same set of words … I had collected about fifty, and had digested most of them in collateral columns … The whole … were packed in a trunk of stationary, and sent round by water … and while ascending James river, this package, on account of its weight and presumed precious contents, was singled out and stolen. The thief being disappointed on opening it, threw into the river all its contents … Among these were the whole of the vocabularies.
To Dr. Benjamin S. Barton, September 21, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, not even a leader’s careful planning is enough.

Jefferson had always been interested in Native American culture. Part of that interest had been to compare and contrast their languages and to look for similarities with those from Europe. To that end, he had collected their vocabularies for 30 years. He had only to incorporate those Lewis & Clark had acquired. His presidential duties were such that he lacked the time to complete the analysis. The task would have to wait for retirement. Upon leaving the presidency, these vocabularies were shipped by water toward Monticello.

Only a few scraps of his work survived, sullied by water and mud. The project was lost. He speculated he might try again, but thought he was too old to make much progress.

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What qualities characterize genius?

I sit down to petition your suffrage [vote] in favor of a friend … the Revd. James Fontaine, who offers himself as a candidate for … chaplain to the house of burgesses. I do not wish to derogate [detract] from the merit of the gentleman who possessed that office last, but I can not help hoping that every friend to genius, where the other qualities of the competitors are equal, will give a preference to superior abilities. Integrity of heart and purity of manners recommend Messrs. Price and Fontaine equally to our esteem; but in acuteness of penetration, accuracy of judgment, elegance of composition, propriety of performing the divine service, and in every work of genius, the former [Price] is left a great distance behind the latter [Fontaine].
To William Preston, August 18, 1768

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Discerning leaders appreciate goodness but give preference to genius.
The 25-year-old Jefferson was studying to become a lawyer and observing the meetings of the House of Burgesses, to which he would be elected four years later. He wrote in support of a new candidate to be chaplain of that body. He made these observations in recommending the challenger over the incumbent:
1. He would not criticize the current office-holder.
2. Genius should be encouraged.
3. When both possess equal qualities (“Integrity of heart and purity of manners”), superior abilities should be recognized.
4. Those abilities in Fontaine were:
– Keen insight
– Wise decision-making
– Excellence in writing
– Proper execution of spiritual responsibilities
– Excellence in every intellectual endeavor

Jefferson went on to encourage Preston, not to rely on his word only, but to ask others’ opinions, too.

“… we wanted an “upbeat” kind of talk.
That’s exactly what you gave us.”

Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central NY Chapter
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I do not care what it costs. Just do it.

may I ask the favor of you to present my request to your son that he would be so good as to make a copy of the portrait he took of me, and of the same size? it is intended for a friend who has expressed a wish for it; and when ready I will give directions to whom it shall be delivered if he will be so good as to drop me a line mentioning it & the price.
To Charles Willson Peale, February 21, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart people, not just smart leaders, know the cost in advance.
Peale (1741 – 1827) was a noted Philadelphia painter. He also owned a distinguished natural history museum there. (Many of Lewis & Clark’s specimens from their western expedition found a permanent home in Peale’s museum.)

Peale had sons who were also painters. The son referred to here is Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860), named after you know who. Jefferson wanted Rembrandt to make a copy of his 1800 portrait for a friend. When it was completed, Rembrandt was to notify Jefferson and tell him what it cost.

Some of Jefferson’s financial woes were inflicted on him. Others were of his own making. This is an example of the latter. He was unfailingly generous toward others and gave no thought to the cost of such gifts, even extravagant ones like a duplicate portrait for a friend.

At age 81, he would write 10 points of advice for a young boy, based on his own life experiences. Point #3: “Never spend your money before you have it.” It was a lesson he never learned, and by that time, he was hopelessly in debt.

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